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September 07, 2008

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Leslie

I confess it makes me uncomfortable.

joseph

a commenter on Malcolm's site offered this:

"Any thoughts of sending a similar letter to the parishioners who promised to support the families?"

Malcolm+

I'd like to hear more from Leslie about why s/he (sorry, I'm not sure which pronoun to use) finds it uncomfortable.

There were a couple of iterations in the discussion. We considered addressing the letter to the children who were baptised, for example, but felt that some parents might see that as manipulative. My wife led me to add the sentence about St. James helping the parents to keep their promise, which she says makes the letter seem less like a guilt trip.

joseph

Leslie - do you want to expand a bit? I'm sure Malcolm, myself and several others would be interested to hear your take.

On a more general note, I think that sometimes we do a "disservice" by offering baptism as a "service" - a bit of consumer choice religious appetizer, hoping that somehow people will return for the salad bar and full course meal. I really found the comment about helping the congregation realize their promises to be an important (and oft-neglected) piece of the puzzle.

Leslie

FWIW. I have no kids. But I was baptized as an infant, faithful Sunday School attender-turned-teacher and also a public school teacher. I am also a God parent of several children, some of whom are even Anglican.

From the public school teacher point of view, using the issue of grades raises flags for me. Parents in our culture are driven to achieve. Dance, piano, tutoring, hockey, skating, swimming, lacrosse etc. The driven mentality is a pervasive temptation & even huge source of judgment for parents (at the ironic expense of their kids in my view) and I guess it saddens me a bit when the church plays into that philosophy. Probably just a lighthearted addition to your letter, so I don't begrudge the intent of it...I've just grown to see the driven mentality as one of those things that erodes the family without us always realizing it.

As for the baptismal promises, Malcolm, I would join your wife in the importance of that last sentence about St. James supporting the family, however, once the guilt trip is laid (You promised!) I'm not sure if one sentence at the end will undo things.

Why have any of that? Why not simply: "When you brought your child to baptism, we promised to support you in keeping the promises you made on behalf of your child. So, Sunday School is starting up." If the church did its job in presenting the vows of baptism at the time, then the parents will remember such an important commitment and they themselves will know if they're following it or not.

When I was in business school I was taught with every letter to consider my audience and the purpose the letter was to fill for that audience. Imagining myself in the shoes of a busy, tired parent, I'm not sure where I'd end up if I received that letter.

This is quite a bit of blabbing from me. I'm not outraged, simply uncomfortable, and it's not really my letter to be uncomfortable with so...feel free to take it or leave it. :)

PS I am female.

Malcolm+

Of course, I didn't post the letter to my blog until we'd gotten to the final version. But a lot of the comments I've gotten have been very useful should either St. James or I decide to pursue the idea again in the future. (My interim appointment to St. James should be ended before the next fall Sunday School start-up.)

My reference to the US study was intended to be at a number of levels. Lighthearted, certainly. But also an appeal to self-interest - if arguably a little cynical. The article (to which the letter provides the link) also alludes to the fact that correlation does not prove causality. (As a teacher, you will appreciate the story of how I first learned that. When working on some educational assessment documents in Saskatchewan, we noticed that students who spent time with the math teacher outside of class tended to do poorer than those who did not. Saying it that way suggested that math teachers were the problem. Of course, a more sensible interpretation was that those who spent more time with the teacher outside of class were likely those who were already having difficulty.)

Insofar as it was an appeal to self-interest, it was also a carrot up front - the later reference being to the stick of "you promised."

I don't per se have a quibble with confronting folk with their promises. Adding the reference to how St. James would help them to keep their promise served to soften it somewhat. Based on the very solid feedback, I'd probably expand that piece to explain that the parish had promised to help.

Like any "outside of the box" thinking, the first go will teach us something about what to do differently the next time - including whether or not there should be a next time. We had considered (but never got around to) a similarly framed letter to parents of slightly older children when we started Confirmation instruction last spring.

Leslie

You will do what you do.

All the best.

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  • Copyright Rev. Joseph Walker, St Timothy's Anglican Church

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